- Columbia University
- United States of America
About Jeffrey Xiong
I am a first-year student at Columbia University majoring in Biology and East Asian Studies. I was born in Canada but grew up with my grandparents in rural China much of my early childhood. I am very passionate about the intersection of science and society, with research interests in neuropsychiatric illness and modern Chinese politics.
I am a/an:
Laidlaw Cohort Year
Area of Expertise
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My hobbies/interests are:
I am open to participating in mentoring/buddy programmes
Channels contributed to:Social Sciences Medicine & Health STEM
Rooms participated in:Columbia University Undergraduate Scholars
Bulk posting because I couldn't find this for a couple of weeks!
What does a typical day of your research/community engagement look like? Aside from a narrative description, upload a photo, video and/or other media submission!
The average day for me varies wildly – which is the exciting part of my work this summer! Depending on the day, I usually dedicate the bulk of my workday to one of the following: reading papers, running test experiments on the literature, or organizing work with Queer in AI. I am helping lead a hybrid panel at an upcoming conference synthesizing these three goals, but at the moment I’m still working on gaining a solid foundation in all three pillars. Since half of my organizing work is virtual, I’m working on a mix of other time zones’ schedules as well, so in my downtime I fill my day with the other 2 relevant tasks.
What challenges and/or difficulties have you encountered and how did you go about resolving them? Speak to a specific challenge you have encountered and some of the ways that you tackled the problem.
Has your research or work in a community to this point introduced you to any new fields or topics that are of interest to you? How, if at all, has your work narrowed since the beginning of the project?
One major unexpected problem was extracting results from the technical side of the project. Much of this work is not necessarily “due” at any point; rather, a lot of this is hands-on learning so that I have a sufficiently broad knowledge base to help organize at the upcoming conference and additional work with Queer in AI in the future. Many of the people I’m working with in Queer in AI don’t work in my field of AI research, while the people I work with in the lab are more removed from activism work. Consequently, it’s challenging to orient myself correctly – or rather, to know if I am oriented correctly – in a way that is productive towards one particular goal, so I am trying to learn a broad base of knowledge to cover most of the important topics. Unfortunately, this is quite a lot of work, though very rewarding, and compartmentalizing the technical components on certain days of the week has helped me absorb more information from the same amount of technical learning that I’m doing. Oddly enough, my work has broadened in some ways since I started doing it!
What new skills and/or knowledge have you gained from your summer experience? Have you met anyone who has been instrumental in shaping/helping you conduct your project? Briefly, how has this person impacted you? What have you learned about leadership from this individual, and how might it influence your actions, work, and self in the future?
I grew significantly both as a student and as a leader over the course of the project. I gained in-depth technical knowledge on how ANNs work, the mathematical and neuroscientific foundations of the field, and how to implement state-of-the-art methods. Through this, I gained hands-on experience which led me to learn much more than I would ever have had through book-learning on how ANNs can be risky.
As a result of this experience, I was also greatly empowered to lead within the community. I took the initiative to lead Queer in AI’s presence at NAACL, stepping up to use my skills to help others, and learning about how to organize in a decentralized community effectively. Furthermore I was the only undergraduate student organizing a panel at NAACL, and from my conversations with other attendees, I may have been one of a handful undergraduates in general at the conference. I am very proud of how far I have come as a rising leader in the community, helping provide justice to the queer community and prevent harms with my unique background.
For the first half of my undergraduate career, my pursuits have largely been unified by the central thread of a fascination with genetics. This summer, I’m making the transition from exploring genetics as a researcher- to serving those who are vulnerable in the genetics field.
Last summer, I conducted two types of research. As a part of the Laidlaw program, I conducted qualitative bioethics research on precision medicine research, a field that promises to combine genetic, environment, and lifestyle data in personalizing healthcare. Outside of Laidlaw, I conducted basic biology research on CRISPR genome engineering technologies in the Sternberg Lab.
This summer, my goal is to serve the rare genetic disease community through two simultaneous projects- one in-person and one virtual. First, I will be developing virtual support groups for the parents of youth with sickle cell disease (a rare genetic blood condition) through the Cambridge-based non-profit called NextStep. I was inspired to create these support groups through my past experience leading a NextStep program called STRIVE, which mentors youth with sickle cell. In STRIVE, we occasionally host programs called “sickle cell panels” where our program mentees learn from and pose questions to older folks also living with sickle cell. Youth have always remarked how eye-opening these panels have been, so the basic idea was: why not allow the parents of these youth also connect, share resources, and offer support to one another?
In tandem, I will be in-person volunteering at the Terence Cardinal Cooke (TCC) Healthcare Center in NYC. The TCC offers both long-term and short-term care in the form of a traditional nursing home, sub-acute rehabilitation program, specialty hospital for youth, and, most famously, a dedicated care unit for those with Huntington’s disease (a rare genetic neurodegenerative brain disorder). The latter is where I will be spending the bulk of my time, where I hope to get a better sense of what it is like working in hospice care and, more specifically, caring for those with a rare neurodegenerative disease.
As different as my aforementioned research might appear from my more service-oriented work this summer, one transferable skill (or tool) that I’ll be taking with me is the ability to navigate an inter-disciplinary, highly collaborative setting. Last summer, whether my colleagues specialized in anthropology, data science, or molecular biophysics, drawing on diverse talents, while clearly communicating what our high-level goals were, allowed me to move research projects forward in a quicker, more organized fashion. This summer, I will similarly find myself in multi-disciplinary, collaborative settings filled with recreational therapists, physicians, and non-profit program directors. It will be really important to continue leveraging diverse expertise to further my project goals!
Hi Dennis! This project sounds like a really interesting way to use your research experiences to work with the people behind the genes. Working between STRIVE and TCC sounds really exciting, especially getting a broad range of experiences working with different disorders.
Does your research incorporate any outside participation, such as interviews or ethnographic observation? If so, how do you plan on approaching research participants or spaces in an effective and, most importantly, ethical manner? If you are not conducting ethnographic research, what communities do you engage in your research, and how have they informed your project?
A lot has changed over the past week! Originally, I was hoping on conducting interviews in the Boston area with local queer folks, but as I dived deeper into conversations with my mentors, I think I want to situate this project less on local queer experiences and more broadly on queer experiences interacting between tech developers and creators (since that is the general focus of Queer in AI and I am getting more direction there). I think this is a cleaner and more directed goal with regards to developing standards of use for artificial neural networks.
How do you find your own self coming through in your research, if it all? Is your project more suited towards the invisibility of the researcher, or is it a project that would benefit from the researcher being more present (whatever ‘present’ means)?
This question is a bit challenging to tackle. The invisibility of the researcher (me!) is in some ways ideal, in some ways impossible; in some ways undesirable, in some ways inevitable. The end product of this summer's work is invariably biased by my own experiences in tech, the particular fields and methods I'm interested in, and my own negotiations with identity. This is good to recognize. This also allows me to provide my own ontological perspective of how artificial neural networks ought to be used and endows the standard of use with a deeper understanding of one particular position than a truly invisible paper would. Yet this may also blind the final result to all other positions from which I could have spoken. This is why collaboration with others is key and I'm hoping to ask my mentors for advice in this.
As you set out on your research or community engagement project, do you find yourself experiencing any worries or insecurities about saying something that’s already been said? How do we as researchers and/or volunteers learn to address or set aside those insecurities or, better yet, to use them to our advantage?
If your project this summer differs from your project last summer, has last summer’s project influenced your project this year, and if so how? If your project is different, what tools have you developed to help you work on this project?
In an unexpected turn of events my work with Laidlaw began early! This summer I am working in conjunction with the MetaConscious Lab at MIT and Queer in AI to develop a set of standards of use for Artificial Neural Networks, a particular subdivision of biologically-inspired Artificial Intelligence. Although the field itself diverges greatly from my previous summer's work with trans and nonbinary Chinese-American oral histories, the methods, approaches, and considerations I am using on the day-to-day are heavily inspired by my experiences from the previous summer. This summer's work builds upon models of intersectionality I explored last summer and analyzing how emerging models of artificial intelligence can induce harm through examples from oral histories. I also hope to get back into more oral histories this summer to build better resistance models!
Ironically, in some sense, this week I focused almost entirely on what has already been said. I don't have much familiarity with Artificial Neural Networks so this week was a lot of practicing, listening, and learning how they work and talking to people at Queer in AI to learn about their own experiences with them. From here, I anticipate using this as a launching point to get into the more grounded sociological work analyzing particular models that are common and how queer resistance can foment against them.